James Webb Telescope Sunshield Deployment Underway: All You Need To Know

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James Webb Telescope Sunshield Deployment Underway: All You Need To Know

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NASA has several missions lined up for the coming years just as it has accomplished several milestones over the past year. The latest one is the James Webb space telescope, which has unwrapped its sunshield as part of its deployment processor. The complete deployment still has a few steps to go and every one of them could be termed risky.

James Webb Telescope Sunshield Deployment Underway

James Webb Telescope Sunshield Deployment

Previously, the James Webb telescope had extended its deployable tower assembly or DTA, which connects the two halves of the space telescope. This paved the way to begin the preliminary steps to open the massive sunshield. Now, the NASA team has completed the next two steps of deploying the space telescope’s aft momentum flap and releasing the protective membrane cover of the sunshield.

The James Webb telescope must still unfurl the sunshield, which is set to happen in the next day or so, the five-layer structure must be extended to the proper tension by the NASA mission team, which is expected to be completed by January 2.

“The full deployment of the sunshield, the most challenging element for Webb, will mark a critical milestone for the mission. This step is scheduled for completion about eight days after launch, no earlier than Sunday, January 2,” NASA said in a statement.

James Webb Telescope Sunshield Component Explained

NASA mentions the sunshield component and deployment of the same is one of the crucial steps. It keeps the space telescope’s optics and instruments at the correct temperature, which is super cold. To note, the sunshield on the James Webb telescope extends to roughly 70 by 47 feet or 21 by 14 meters.

This massive sunshield had to be folded up to send it to space – which now requires unfolding to complete the setup. “Just as a ship’s mast must be set in position and the rigging established before the ship unfurls its sails, Webb’s pallet structures, momentum flap, and mid-booms will soon all be in place for Webb’s silver sunshield to unfold,” NASA explained.

Hence, the NASA mission team on the James Webb space telescope will deploy the aft momentum flap. The flap helps the telescope to maintain its orientation in orbit without consuming extra fuel. The sunshield itself is crucial as it will be pushed continuously by photons from the sun. the momentum flap will counteract this and allow the observatory to conserve fuel.

James Webb Telescope Deployment: What Next?

Once the sunshield deployment is completed, the NASA mission team is expected to work on the primary and secondary mirrors. These are currently expected to be deployed by January 7. Once done, the James Webb space telescope observatory deployment phase will come to an end.

It’s a well-known fact that deploying the entire James Webb telescope and its massive sunshield is a herculean task. It will take roughly 30 days from its launch date on December 25 to reach its final destination at L2 or the Earth-Sun Language Point, which is about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.

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Story first published: Friday, December 31, 2021, 12:23 [IST]

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